Categories
Environment Nuclear Abolition

Nuclear Power Transition

Google Maps Image of Duane Arnold Energy Center

In 2018 NextEra Energy Resources announced plans to retire the Duane Arnold Energy Center (DAEC) — a 615-MW nuclear power plant located in Palo, Iowa — before the end of 2020.

NextEra’s main customer at DAEC, Alliant Energy, will buy out its contract in September for $110 million, sourcing electricity instead from NextEra’s wind generation fleet. The move is expected to save Alliant Energy customers $300 million over 21 years.

There are no plans to replace Duane Arnold with new nuclear generating capacity.

Two essential problems with nuclear power plants are they cost too much, and a lack answers to the question of what to do with spent nuclear fuel. These problems are political. In our current political climate that makes them unsolvable, practically speaking, even though potential solutions exist for both.

Certain environmental groups favor nuclear power to replace coal as an emissions reduction tactic. On its face this is belied by the urgency of the climate crisis.

“Nuclear, especially next-generation nuclear, has tremendous potential to be part of the solution to climate change,” climatologist James Hansen said on Dec. 3, 2015. “The dangers of fossil fuels are staring us in the face. So for us to say we won’t use all the tools (such as nuclear energy) to solve the problem is crazy.”

The challenge for nuclear energy is the timeline for market penetration in the industrial age. It will take too long.

Cesare Marchetti of the International Institute of Applied Systems Analysis did research which suggests the historical trend on implementation of new technologies such as wood, coal, oil and gas takes 40-50 years to go from one percent to 10 percent of market share. Nuclear energy occupies about 12 percent of current global market share. It will take almost a century for an energy source to occupy half the market. The world doesn’t have 50 years, and likely longer, to wait for nuclear energy sources to gain acceptance and growth the way coal, oil and gas have.

Even if political issues surrounding nuclear waste disposal could be resolved, the financial cost of building out a fleet of new nuclear power plants would likely follow the course of the Georgia Power Vogtle Plant expansion, which, when they broke ground, was the first nuclear power plant contemplated in 30 years. Despite proclamations of “making American nuclear cool again,” by then Energy Secretary Rick Perry, the Georgia Public Service Commission questions whether the plant will be economically viable if going on line is delayed much longer. New nuclear energy remains too expensive, especially when compared to renewables and natural gas.

Renewable energy (wind, solar, hydroelectric) is further along than nuclear in its evolution as an energy source. At 31 percent of global market share, we remain decades away from achieving 50 percent market penetration, according to Marchetti’s analysis. At the rate we are going, elimination of coal, oil and natural gas from the energy production mix for electricity won’t occur in my lifetime, and likely not the lives of the millennial cohort. By then all of this electricity talk may be rendered moot by the climate crisis.

There are no big-picture answers to the trouble of an over-heating planet in a 500-word blog post. What remains clear is our problems are driven more by politics than by technology and reason.

It is critical we root out influence and corruption in government. To do that it will take voters who care about our future and are willing to make the hard choices necessary to address the climate crisis.

In any case, from my vantage point, it seems unlikely nuclear power plants will be part of our energy future.

Categories
Environment

What’s Next in Mitigating Climate Change?

Earthrise by Bill Anders, Dec. 24, 1968

Republican U.S. presidents don’t like international climate agreements.

George W. Bush withdrew the United States from the Kyoto Protocol, a treaty we ratified, and yesterday Donald J. Trump notified the United Nations of our intent to withdraw from the global climate agreement signed in Paris when the mandatory one-year waiting period finishes the day after the 2020 general election.

The two Republicans said the agreements would hurt or restrict the U.S. economy.

If Democrats re-take the White House in 2020, there is a lesson to be learned from these agreements. A broader consensus is required for international agreements to be sustained over time. They can’t be subject to the vagaries of U.S. politics.

What then?

The answer is in engagement — in society, with friends and family, and with government. We can no longer survive alone in the context of these networks.

The sooner we realize it the more likely will we be to better implement solutions to the climate crisis. We can’t rely on government alone as its strengths wax and wane with political tides. We must use broader societal tides to our advantage, eroding recalcitrant shorelines when we can, and flowing back to the sea when we can’t.

From Act II, Scene 2 of Romeo and Juliet by William Shakespeare:

JULIET
O, swear not by the moon, th’ inconstant moon,
That monthly changes in her circle orb,
Lest that thy love prove likewise variable.

ROMEO
What shall I swear by?

JULIET
Do not swear at all.
Or, if thou wilt, swear by thy gracious self,
Which is the god of my idolatry,
And I’ll believe thee.

ROMEO
If my heart’s dear love—

JULIET
Well, do not swear. Although I joy in thee,
I have no joy of this contract tonight.
It is too rash, too unadvised, too sudden,
Too like the lightning, which doth cease to be
Ere one can say “It lightens.” Sweet, good night.
This bud of love, by summer’s ripening breath,
May prove a beauteous flower when next we meet.
Good night, good night! As sweet repose and rest
Come to thy heart as that within my breast.

So it is, and so it should be. Now back to figuring next steps as Republicans ditch the work leading to near consensus on how to mitigate the effects of climate change.

Categories
Environment

Church for Liberals

Greta Thunberg in Iowa City, Iowa Oct. 4, 2019. Photo Credit: Greta Thunberg Twitter feed.

Was yesterday’s gathering of a couple thousand people to support school strikers for climate action the equivalent of Evangelical Christian mega-churches?

Maybe.

Drawn to Iowa City by the arrival of 16 year-old Swedish environmental activist Greta Thunberg, people attended the event for a variety of reasons. Mostly they seemed interested in environmental action as well as in Thunberg and her celebrity. Such feelings fall at the intersection of an impulse to do something, political activism, and the real need to prevent human-caused climate change from getting worse.

By all accounts the event was positive, although I did not attend. I’ve been to mega-church revivals, one replete with Johnny Cash performing. It’s not who I am. Iowa City is the bastion of our state’s liberal elites, a group that includes many friends, but has proven ineffective in implementing the kinds of change needed to address our most significant shared environmental problems.

The presidential campaign of John Kerry, spouse of Teresa Heinz Kerry, scion of the Heinz ketchup family, gave rise to notions of liberal elites. Together the couple wrote a book titled This Moment on Earth: Today’s New Environmentalists and their Vision for the Future. While it was a New York Times bestseller, it did little to move the needle on climate action. It reinforced the idea that Kerry was of the East Coast liberal elite. Kerry’s campaign contributed to coalescence of a reactionary cult that eschewed all things liberal.

I don’t hear my liberal friends talking about this very much. In some ways, Kerry faded into the background in a male-dominated cultural environment that brought us Barack Obama, then Donald J. Trump.

R.F. Latta made a point on social media yesterday. “What liberals don’t understand about GOP reluctance to stand up to Trump is that conservatives fear the floodgates of culture change will burst open if they do and that will end of their way of life forever.” A similar sentiment is found in Lyz Lenz’ recent book God Land: A Story of Faith, Loss, and Renewal in Middle America in which she describes the male-dominated nature of white Evangelical churches. Rejection of Hillary Clinton as president was related to her female gender. Lenz wrote the 2016 election was an assertion of male power. Liberals must endeavor to understand the fears of conservative, evangelical Christians and others if we hope to avert the worst outcomes of the climate crisis.

Iowa City is home to Democrat Jean Lloyd-Jones, who along with Republican Maggie Tinsman, founded an organization called 50-50 in 2020, a “campaign school for women.” The organization has “a 10-year campaign with the goal of electing women to fill half the seats in the Iowa Legislature and half of Iowa’s Congressional delegation, and a woman Governor by 2020 – the 100th anniversary of women’s suffrage in this country.” The organization serves as an alternative to the churches of liberalism and conservatism. Jean and Maggie have kept the issue of moving women to a more prominent role in politics at the forefront of media attention. As Greta Thunberg’s visit to Iowa City fades into memory we need something similar for environmental issues.

We have some top drawer environmental activists in our area. I’m thinking of State Senators Rob Hogg and Joe Bolkcom, Mike Carberry, and members of the non-partisan 100 Grannies for a Livable Future. All of them would like nothing better than to bridge partisan divides to work on sustainable climate action. Without addressing conservative fears about liberalism, I don’t see how that can happen.

Yesterday’s climate strike was positive in many respects. The climate crisis will impact everyone so solutions must also include everyone. Otherwise, we could find ourselves kneeling at the altar of celebrity with nothing to show for it.

Categories
Environment Writing

Glorious Summer of 2019

Cherry Tomatoes

If August was a tough month, this summer has been one of the best in recent years.

Moderate local temperatures with reasonable relative humidity, rain enough to help the garden grow, and friends meeting the challenge of growing flowers and vegetables in a changing climate, all helped us feel comfortable.

July was notable for being the hottest month for the planet since record-keeping began, according to the U.S. government. Regional variation made Iowa tolerable, perhaps a harbinger of the impact of humans living on the planet continues its steady deterioration of our biome.

Despite favorable weather it was hard to get off the starting blocks in August on scores of projects needing attention.

It will soon be time to turn the page.

For the time being I’m eating cherry tomatoes and enjoying the last weeks of this glorious summer.

Categories
Home Life Local Food

Trail Walk

Lake Macbride State Park – Aug. 9, 2019

A main feature of the vacant lot we bought in 1993 was its proximity to Lake Macbride State Park.

When we need exercise, or just want to get away from the house, it’s a short walk to the trail that runs five miles from our nearby city to the main park entrance. In August the park is filled with wildflowers, insects and other flora and fauna of living in Iowa. There is as much to observe as there is to escape in quotidian life.

A trail walk can reset our lives each time we venture out.

Two weekends into my seventh season at an apple orchard I continue to enjoy the work and its customer engagement.

A family drove over from Chicago, one stopped on their way back to Rochester, Minn., and regulars return with the micro-seasons within a procession of a hundred apple varieties. Every chance we have to converse is a window into lives where with at least one common interest. It is the beginning of something positive.

A trail walk can get us centered and ready for such engagement.

Categories
Environment

Taking Seeds from the Prairie

Lake Macbride State Park, Summer 2019.

Is it wrong to collect seeds from a prairie restoration project for use in a home garden or another prairie restoration project?

I posed the question on social media. While the responses weren’t that many, they were a unanimous yes.

Not so fast!

“Stealing is stealing,” Cindy Crosby, author of The Tallgrass Prairie: An Introduction wrote.

A prairie manager I know was out for a stroll on his site when he came across a woman cutting buckets of blooms. Horrified, he said, “Lady, what are you doing?” She replied testily, “Well I tried to cut the flowers up by the visitors center for my party and they wouldn’t let me. So I came out here.”

Wildflowers will replenish themselves, right? Maybe and maybe not.

I asked our local state park ranger for his thoughts about harvesting seeds from prairie restoration areas. His response was speedy and made sense, “You are good to take seeds from the plants but just do not remove the plant itself and you will be ok.”

That’s good enough for me. I’ll be watching the patch of restored prairie for seed formation and try some of the varieties in our home garden.

Prairie used to cover more than 85 percent of Iowa land, according to the Neal Smith National Wildlife Refuge. Today less than one tenth of a percent of original tallgrass prairie remains in the state. A prairie restoration project, like the ones at Iowa state parks, is a work of human hands and culture.

People like Cindy Crosby have a personal investment in work they have done to restore prairie. Even if such restorations are anything but natural, and a constant struggle to keep invasive plants like garlic mustard at bay, they add cultural value in the form of habitat for plant and animal species and the narratives spun around them. We should tread lightly in their work, take what we need, and leave the rest.

Additional Reading:

Tuesdays in the Tallgrass, a blog by Cindy Crosby.

Tallgrass Conversations: In Search of the Prairie Spirit by Cindy Crosby and Thomas Dean.

Restoring the Tallgrass Prairie: An Illustrated Manual for Iowa and the Upper Midwest by Shirley Shirley.

~ Written for Blog for Iowa

Categories
Environment Garden Local Food Writing

Summer Hump, August Heat

Mixing bowl with summer coleslaw made of local produce and my fermented apple cider vinegar.

Six weeks into summer 2019 we are over a hump, if not the halfway point.

I visited Paris in August 1974. It was hard to find a business open. Eschewing air conditioning we Americans find ubiquitous, Parisians fled the heat of August for the Mediterranean Coast and other breezy spots.

We could learn from that society.

My spouse visited her sister for the month of July. While she was gone I set the thermostat at 84 degrees compared to doing what we wanted in July 2018. The average monthly ambient temperature increased from 75 to 76 degrees Fahrenheit. Between running the air conditioner less and only one person active in the house, our electricity usage dropped by 37 percent in terms of kWh used. I appreciate the savings but I’d like her to return home more.

Summer in Big Grove Township has been reasonably nice with plenty of warm, sunny days, not enough rain, and an abundance from the garden. Friday the ditch had dried out enough I could mow the tall grass and get it looking more normal. The rabbit that lived there this year is likely frowning as rabbits do.

The yard grasses are in transition and need mowing, but not that much. I thought to do it yesterday and rolled up the garden hose near the house after watering in the morning. Not yet. Maybe today after my shift at the orchard. Maybe not as it is a low priority.

We planted our first garden in 1982 and grew or harvested something from our yard in the five places we lived since then. I’m getting better at it.

Cucumbers

We produced more cucumbers this year than we could eat and preserve. I determined a process using four varieties of seeds: two pickling, a Japanese-style cucumber and the utilitarian Marketmore. I made a gallon of fermented dill pickles as dill came in from my barter arrangement with Farmer Kate. The key to good pickles is the cucumber size. Once cucumbers get an inch in diameter they are too large for pickle making. Just don’t do it.

I made dishes of sliced cucumbers for potluck dinners, gave them away, and ate them as much as I could stand sliced raw, in mixed salads, and with lettuce greens when they were in season. There were plenty for sweet pickles but I overdid it last year and have more than a dozen leftover jars. I struck balance between the desire to use every bit of produce in the garden and how we eat them in season.

Tomatoes

As I posted a couple days ago, we are waiting for tomatoes. The cherries are coming in Jasper, Taxi, Matt’s Wild, Grape, White Cherry and Clementine. The White Cherry, Jasper and Matt’s Wild are surprisingly sweet and delicious. The single Early Girl and Black Krim plants produced fruit. I’ve had a couple Speckled Roma which I found to have tough skin.

This year as last, I planted the rows too close together. I crawled under the seven-foot indeterminate vines and inspected. A lot of good sized fruit waits to ripen under the foliage.

The plants have less blight this year than last. I don’t know why but two things are different. We had extremely cold weather last winter. Perhaps the cold killed some of it off. I also applied diatomaceous earth to the ground after tilling to keep down the crawling bugs that love tomatoes. Perhaps it had an effect on the blight. So far, so good and if all continues to go well, we will have plenty of tomatoes for fresh eating, canning and gifts to friends.

Green Beans

By now we’ve usually had green beans but there are hardly any on the plants. The foliage looks great. There are flowers. No beans. Other area gardeners are experiencing the same thing with a reduction in yield. I picked exactly two beans from a 15-foot row.

Apples

After nearly perfect pollination and fruit setting the invasion of Japanese beetles has the apple trees looking like dirty brown lace. I wait for the fruit’s background color to get right and have been tasting them every other day. The first of two varieties is getting close. Fingers crossed.

A friend sprayed his apple tree with Sevin to kill a Japanese Beetle infestation. The pesticide works although it contains carbaryl, a known carcinogen banned in some European countries. “Aren’t you worried about eating the fruit?” I asked. “Nah!” he said. I continue to refrain from using insecticides, which offer a temporary abatement to the detriment of the environment and apple eaters.

It’s a race to ripeness with popilla japonica. If bugs eat too many tree leaves, inadequate sugar is produced for fruit to ripen. If fruit gets ripe on the tree and they can penetrate the skin, they will mass on it and eat it. There appears to be enough green leaf left to absorb sunlight adequately to ripen the apples. I plan to pick them the minute I find them ripe and ferment the juice to make apple cider vinegar. The second variety, Red Delicious, is for eating out of hand, and everything else apple-related.

The Joni Mitchell song comes to mind, “Give me spots on my apples but leave me the birds and the bees.” In our garden there are plenty of apples and an abundance of birds and bees with whom I enjoy co-existing.

Categories
Environment

Planting Trees

Blue Spruce Tree

This week I met someone who works with trees for a local municipality while working a shift at the home, farm and auto supply store.

We discussed several topics, including dealing with Japanese Beetles, tree species that thrive in Iowa, and the Emerald Ash Borer. He favored the River Birch tree.

The city had inventoried every ash tree on public property and had a plan to replace them when they inevitably become infected with the insect.

I asked with what species would the city replace ash trees? He mentioned Chestnut and Black Tupelo (a.k.a. Black Gum). We discussed the blight that eradicated the immense population of Chestnut trees in the Eastern United States and how genetics had improved the tree to resist the disease. He also mentioned the Black Gum tree is attractive, with a nice head, and grows comparatively quickly. The conversation drifted off into how people plan trees on their property and the challenges of establishing them on property with a limited number of spots. I returned to the rest of my work.

Growing trees is a long-term commitment. When we built our home only one tree, a mulberry, lived on our lot. We now have 15 with room for more. I’m not sure I want a chestnut, but a Black Gum sounds like a possibility.

Categories
Environment

A Climate Action for Every Iowan

Image of Earth 7-6-15 from DSCOVR (Deep Space Climate Observatory)

Iowa Public Television devoted its weekly Iowa Press program to climate change.

Dr. Gene Takle, Professor Emeritus at Iowa State University and Dr. David Courard-Hauri, Professor and Director of the Environmental Science and Policy Program at Drake University faced reporters David Pitt with Associated Press and Katarina Sostaric of Iowa Public Radio.

No new ground was broken in the 27-minute program because the nature of climate change as we experience it in Iowa is reasonably clear: it’s about moisture, too much in the spring, or too little during the growing season. World-wide warming atmosphere and oceans contribute significantly to extreme weather in Iowa.

Some don’t believe what goes on in Iowa falls into a broader trend or context. Courard-Hauri made an important point about this.

And one thing I’d add is that we focus a lot on this question and if you look at surveys it’s about 20 percent of the people who actively argue that climate change is not caused by people. And the majority of people either, well the majority of people believe the climate is changing, you can see it now, it’s at that level. And then the large majority are aware and concerned and so when we spend a lot of our time focusing on that really small minority, it’s a larger minority of lay people that (sic) it is scientists obviously, but if we spend a lot of time talking about that then I think we miss the fact that most people are wondering what can we be doing, what should we be doing?

What can we be doing about the climate crisis?

A few years ago State Senator Joe Bolkcom made the best case I’ve heard on what to do: join with like-minded people around a cause.

In a society where the myth of rugged individualism persists, and the expansion of media in the form of radio, television, smart phones and computers brought with it a new form of social isolation, that is hard to do. Do it we must and it’s not just me saying it. At some point the climate crisis becomes so obvious and threatening almost everyone wants to answer Courard-Hauri’s question.

An article by Cathy Brown at Yes! magazine last week pointed out there is a climate action for every type of activist.

“Susan Clayton, a professor of psychology and environmental studies at the College of Wooster, says getting involved with a group can help lift your climate-related anxiety and depression in three ways,” Brown wrote. “Working with like-minded folks can validate your concerns, give you needed social support, and help you move from feeling helpless to empowered.”

Bolkcom’s point was similar to Clayton: groups are more effective than individuals.

The reason I’m involved with environmental groups is to work on inter-generational issues. I won’t likely be around when the worst of the climate crisis hits but people I know and love will be. As I ease into retirement it is important to allocate some time to work on the issue.

When Iowa Public Television is doing a program on the climate crisis, the concerns are mainstream. While we expect a lot from our government, politicians need nudging from voters and that is where joining with others in our communities is important. As Brown’s article suggests, there is a way to get involved for every personality.

View Iowa Press episode on climate change here.

Read Cathy Brown’s article at Yes! magazine here.

Categories
Environment

Getting Attention on Climate Change

Ed Fallon in His Garden

Ed Fallon is a friend of Blog for Iowa and we support what he does with his radio program and his advocacy against oil and natural gas pipelines in Iowa.

He caught the attention of Democrats in Cedar Rapids last weekend with a performance art piece, staged by his group Bold Iowa, in which three individuals posed in a gallows with a noose around their neck, standing on blocks of melting ice under a sign that said, “As the arctic melts the climate noose tightens.”

While many on social media and in-person viewers of the piece took a dim view of this direct action, if you know Ed at all, not thinking things through is a feature, not a bug of his work. There is no denying deterioration of the Greenland ice sheet, the Arctic, and the Antarctic ice shelves is a planetary problem that could cause environmental disruptions not seen in living human memory. Bold Iowa’s performance piece was successful in that social media was abuzz discussing its meaning and appropriateness. It was unsuccessful in that major media outlets did not appear to be covering it with the notable exception of the Cedar Rapids Gazette which ran a story on Wednesday framing the piece a racially callous because of its use of a noose, invoking for some an association with lynching in American history.

“We underestimated the way it may trigger folks who either are concerned about the rise in racism in this country, in many respects because of Donald Trump,” Fallon said in an interview with the Gazette. “And also people who were affected by a family member who maybe committed suicide by hanging. … Our focus is to get people to understand just how urgent of a situation climate change is. We really are at a point where human extinction is a possibility.”

In a July 16 email, Fallon wrote he planned to write a blog post about the incident while promoting his Fallon Forum podcast, saying,

Pascha Morgan joins (the Fallon Forum) to discuss Bold Iowa’s provocative performance art, which involved a gallows (representing the threat of extinction) and large blocks of ice (representing accelerated ice melt in the polar regions).

Bold Iowa’s action demanded that Democratic presidential candidates make human survival their first act as president. The banner above the gallows declared, “As the Arctic melts, the climate noose tightens.”

The action received some enthusiastic support. Yet despite what organizers thought was clear messaging, it also experienced some strong pushback. In addition to this week’s live on-air discussion, I’ll publish a more in-depth blog later this week, responding to criticism of the action and apologizing to people offended by the imagery.

Thursday, July 18, Fallon made a post titled An Error of Judgement on the Bold Iowa website. In it he apologized to people offended by the imagery of the noose and accepted full responsibility for what he called an error in judgement. The post also ran as an op-ed in this morning’s Cedar Rapids Gazette.

Our support for Ed Fallon’s work continues. If one reads Fallon’s book Marcher Walker Pilgrim: A Memoir from the Great March for Climate Action there is a clear sense of the haphazard way Fallon goes about planning direct action. The fact is people continue to talk about the performance art piece five days after it happened. To the extent fingers are pointing at Ed’s quirky and in this case considered yet somewhat tone-deaf approach to direct action as the problem, the performance art failed.

Listen to the Fallon Forum live Mondays, 11:00 – noon CT on La Reina KDLF 96.5 FM and 1260 AM in central Iowa. The program is also available on podcast later in the day at FallonForum.com.

~ Written for Blog for Iowa